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Galatians and Paul’s Jerusalem-Collection Re-visited

August 12, 2017

In an essay from 1979 I floated the idea that Paul’s collection-project for Jerusalem may have been used against him by his critics in the Galatian churches:  “The Book of Galatians and the Jerusalem Collection,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 5(1979), pp. 46-62.  In recent weeks, I’ve returned to that essay while reading Bruce Longenecker’s book, Remember the Poor:  Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

Longenecker’s main aim in that book is to argue (contrary to the claims of some other scholars) that the Apostle Paul did promote support for the poor and needy in the early churches that he founded, and I find his case largely persuasive.  In pursuing that aim, Longenecker also discusses attitudes toward the poor more generally in the pagan and Jewish contexts, estimates the economic stratification of the first-century world, and several other matters as well.

But what drew my attention to my 1979 article again is Longenecker’s extended discussion of Galatians 2:10, which is also a key text in my article.  Many scholars over the years have judged that Paul’s statement here that the only thing requested of him by the Jerusalem-church leaders was “that we should remember the poor, which I was eager to do,” refers to his large collection-project for Jerusalem.  Longenecker mounts a sustained case against this view, however.  He observes that in the first few centuries there is no indication that early Christian writers took the verse this way.  Instead, they seem to have read it simply as affirming Christian charity for the poor.  Also, Longenecker criticizes the frequent view that “the poor” in Galatians 2:10 is a technical term for the Jerusalem church, drawing particularly on the article by L. E. Keck,“The Poor Among the Saints in the New Testament.” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 56 (1965): 100-29.  (My proposal does not involve reading “the poor” as a technical term for Jerusalem or relating it to the later “Ebionites,” and so Longenecker’s critique of such views does not apply to my proposal.)

Longenecker’s own proposal for Galatians 2:10 is that it accurately reflects a request from the Jerusalem-church leaders that Paul should promote the kind of “indigenous” benevolence among his pagan/gentile converts (that is, benevolence of believers to other believers in the same local church) that (Longenecker argues) was more characteristic among Jewish circles of the time.  Indeed, Longenecker contends that the Jerusalem leaders regarded this “indigenous” benevolence the key expression of the genuineness of the gentile churches, and their linkage in piety/faith with Jewish churches.

Although some reviewers appear to have been taken with Longenecker’s argument about the verse, I remain (at least for now) unsure that it succeeds, and I continue to hold forth the proposal I made in that 1979 article.  Specifically, I still suggest that Galatians 2:10 is a key part of Paul’s very defensive account in Galatians 1—2, and that in this verse Paul attempts to deflect the accusation that his collection for Jerusalem was a levy laid upon him that proved his inferiority to the Jerusalem-church leaders and that falsified his claim to an independent apostolic authority.  Longenecker and I have had some cordial email exchanges over the text in the last couple of weeks.  But I think that we’ve simply had to agree to disagree for now.

That is, I reiterate my suggestion that in Galatians 2:10 Paul addresses the accusation about his Jerusalem collection by insisting that the request of the Jerusalem-church leaders was (1) really that he and Barnabas continue the sort of benevolence that they had already been involved in (as implied in the plural, present-subjunctive form of the verb, ἵνα μνημονεύωμεν, “that we might [continue to] remember the poor”), (2) that it was to be taken, not as a tax but an expression of concern for the poor/needy (albeit, particularly the poor in the Jerusalem church), and (3) that this was something that he was entirely happy, even eager to do (as expressed in the singular, aorist verb, ἐσπούδασα).  I suggest that, from the standpoint of the Jerusalem-church leaders, the request was that Paul’s pagan/gentile churches should continue to affirm their solidarity with their Jewish/Judean fellow-believers in a tangible manner.

I continue to think that this makes good sense of Galatians 2:10, particularly doing justice to it as part of the highly defensive account of his relations with the Jerusalem-church leaders, indeed, the concluding statement of that account.  In my 1979 article, I offered a good deal of supporting data from Paul’s letters to suspect that Paul’s Jerusalem collection could have been used against him by his opponents in Galatia, which would explain why Paul felt it necessary to include the topic in his defence of his apostleship in Galatians 1—2.

This still seems to me more plausible than Longenecker’s proposal that what the Jerusalem leaders required of Paul was that his converts exercise generosity among themselves locally (not generosity for Jerusalem), and that the Jerusalem leaders regarded this as the single most important indicator of gentile fellowship with their Jewish co-religionists.  Contrast this with the account of the requirements of gentile believers ascribed to the Jerusalem leaders in Acts 15:28-29, where eating food offered to idols, “blood and things strangled,” and fornication are listed.

My hypothesis remains (at least for now) that Paul had to address his collection for Jerusalem in responding to the Galatian crisis, and that is why we have his statement in Galatians 2:10.  We know that he solicited the Galatian churches to participate in the Jerusalem collection (1 Corinthians 16:1), and we know that his apostolic authority and the adequacy of his gospel were challenged in the Galatian churches (which required his letter to them).  We also know that Paul elsewhere portrayed the Jerusalem-collection as an expression of generosity in his effort to ensure that the Corinthian believers followed through in their commitment to the project (as in 2 Corinthians 8), which fits with his characterization of the request of the Jerusalem leaders in Galatians 2:10.  And we also have Paul’s reference to the collection as both a “ministry to the [Jerusalem] saints” and a sharing of resources with “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25-26).

We also have strong indications, however, that, for Paul, the Jerusalem-collection project was much more than simply relief for the Jerusalem poor.  He also saw the project as a major expression of the faith-solidarity of his churches with their Jewish fellow-believers in Judaea, and likely hoped that it would confirm to the Jerusalem leaders the validity of his gentile-mission.  These hopes seem to lie implicit in his poignant statements about the project in Romans 15:22-33).  The success of the Jerusalem-collection will, he hopes, fire him with “the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (v. 29), and with “joy” (v. 32).  Though he fears “unbelievers” in Judaea (v. 31, which I take to be Jewish outsiders to the Jerusalem church), he plans to go to Jerusalem with the collection and with delegates from the participating gentile churches.

So, with no desire to play off against each other Paul’s Jerusalem-collection project and his promotion of intra-community benevolence in his churches, I continue to propose that Galatians 2:10 makes sense (even better sense) as Paul’s response to the accusation that his Jerusalem-collection proved that he was inferior to the Jerusalem leaders, and not a fully authentic apostle.  He insists that the Jerusalem leaders laid no requirement on him (Gal. 2:6; “nothing on me”), and instead portrays them as expressing the request or desire that Paul and Barnabas continue to “remember the poor” (the subjunctive construction in 2:10 expressing this softened view of the matter), and that he himself was entirely (or even already) eager to do this.

In the final part of my 1979 article, I also proposed that, after addressing the substantial issues of his authority and the validity of his message in Galatians 1—6, in Galatians 6:6-10 Paul then renews his original appeal to the Galatian churches to participate in the Jerusalem collection.  I won’t take the space here to lay out that case again.  I grant that it is a matter of judgement, but I do feel just a bit hard done by in John Barclay’s dismissive comment that “There is nothing to justify Hurtado’s suggestion” about these verses (Obeying the Truth:  Paul’s Ethics in Galatians, 163 n. 59).  For I did offer a rationale for my proposal.  Moreover, the great J. B. Lightfoot made a similar proposal (in his commentary on Galatians).  Whether the basis for my proposal is persuasive or not, each one will have to judge; but it’s hardly “nothing.”  That, however, is a matter for another occasion.

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18 Comments
  1. Alan Paul permalink

    What light, if any, do the references to the Jerusalem collection(s) in Acts cast in support of your Galatians 2:12 proposal(s)?

    • Alan: The problem is that Acts doesn’t mention explicitly a Pauline collection for Jerusalem. The closest that we get is the reference in the speech of Paul to Governor Felix that he has come to Jerusalem “to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices” (Acts 24:17). Is this Acts’s way of portraying the collection?? Why this way if so??

      • Alan Paul permalink

        Your double question marks say it all. “I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices” seems an odd way to describe a collection that was meant for the Christian community!

      • Alan Paul permalink

        “We know why Theophilus was never told by Luke about the collection. For a time, this exchange of money was what held together two very divided Christian factions. The rejection of this money was the rejection of Paul, along with any hope of a Gentile mission for the early Christian movement. And this event was a moment of shame, revealing a lack of unity that would cast doubt on the divine nature of the mission itself.” Discuss.

      • Uh, Alan, the quote (source??) is flawed. There was definitely a “Gentile mission,” Paul’s, out of which came tht collection. Whether it was accepted or not, there was a Gentile mission and a collection.

      • Alan Paul permalink

        The quotation is from the concluding section of Robert Orlando’s documentary film “A Polite Bribe”! It in no way denies the gentile collection, but rather provides an explanation for its excision from the account in Luke-Acts and thus an answer to your earlier question “Is this Acts’s way of portraying the collection?? Why this way if so??”. See also the discussion and comments in your blog dated 11th March 2014.

      • The quotation appeared to say that the Gentile mission was derailed. Which of course it wasn’t.

      • Alan Paul permalink

        Wouldn’t you agree that the events described in Acts 21-26 (his arrest, trial and imprisonment in Jerusalem) do indeed derail Paul’s gentile mission ? After that, there is only his deportation to Rome and subsequent detention and (according to tradition) execution there.

      • Well, Paul’s arrest ended HIS gentile mission, yes. But by then he’d been at it for a decade or more, and per Romans 15, he seems to have felt that he’d wrapped it up, at least in the East.

      • Alan Paul permalink

        Your 1979 thesis, which I find pretty convincing, appears however – at least in the summary you provide – to consider the Jerusalem collection as one homogenous phenomenon, whereas of course there were more than one collection.

        The circumstances of the collection referred to in Galatians 2 (AD 49?) and the one mentioned in Romans 15 (AD 58?) could well have been very different.

        At a humanitarian level, we know from Josephus and other historical sources that Palestine suffered an acute famine in the mid to late 40s. The issue of poor relief would therefore have been more salient at the time Galatians was written than a decade later.

        In terms of Paul’s mission, in the late 40s he was just getting started, full of hope and confidence, as reflected by the tone of his dealings with the Jerusalem leaders. By the late 50s, his work in the East was coming to an end, and he seems more aware of the strength of his enemies in Jerusalem (Romans 15:31). By that time, the desire to demonstrate solidarity with the Jerusalem church and to secure its support for his gentile mission may have assumed greater importance than a decade previously.

      • The famine relief described in Acts 11 wasn’t Paul’s project. It is described as the project of the Antioch church and in response to the famine. The collection for Jerusalem that Paul orchestrated over several years, mentioned in 1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 8–9 (extensively); and Rom 15, was a major project laden with significance for him.

  2. John Mitrosky permalink

    I have always been fascinated by the mention of “James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars”, in Gal 2:9. The earliest mention we have of these three folks is fascinating in its own right, but so is Paul’s description of them “reputed to be pillars”. What do you make of that description Larry? Does not Paul sound like he is barely containing his sarcasm here? Or do you interpret the phrase “reputed to be pillars” some other way?

    • Paul’s fuller statement in Gal 2:6-9 refers to James, Kephas and John as “those reputed to be something,” and regarded as pillars”, but also qualifies these with his own statements in v. 6 that such things don’t matter to him “for God shows no favorites”, and that these same individuals recognized his own distinctive calling and mission (vv.7-9). As I wrote, the whole narrative is defensive, likely responding to opponents in Galatia who claimed that he was inferior to the Jerusalem leaders.

      • John Mitrosky permalink

        Thanks for the clear summary of this narrative Larry. On a somewhat related matter to this text, as an expert in Mark’s gospel, I was wondering if you have any thoughts about a possible link between Galatians 2:9 and John, Peter and James often being the three together with Jesus in Mark’s text? I realize the James mentioned is supposed to be a different James, but I wonder if you might think that whomever wrote, or inspired Mark, may have had Galations 2:9 in mind?

      • No, John. I see no connection at all.

  3. nice information shared ,keep up the good work

  4. Ron Minton permalink

    This was a very good read. As an early book, Galatians has always intrigued me.
    But the first “that” (of four) in your long sentence below confused me and made me read the section three times. Maybe I missed something, but should the first “that” be than? Just asking.

    This still seems to me more plausible that Longenecker’s proposal that what the Jerusalem leaders required of Paul was that his converts exercise generosity among themselves locally (not generosity for Jerusalem), and that the Jerusalem leaders regarded this as the single most important indicator of gentile fellowship with their Jewish co-religionists.

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